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Ventura County Perspective

CSUCI Rushes Toward Reality but What Are We Really Getting?

Important questions about standards--and whether the county needs this university at all--remain to be answered.

September 06, 1998|STANISLAUS PULLE | Stanislaus Pulle is dean of Southern California Institute of Law at Santa Barbara and Ventura

Is it too late to stop the train and check its destination plates?

This is a question that all those with an interest in quality higher education must ask as the impetus for establishing a Ventura County campus of California State University gathers an unstoppable momentum.

Tidal Wave II, we are told, will bring in a deluge of 300,000 college students in the next 10 years, and Ventura County should ride the wave.

If quality higher education really matters, admissions standards, programs offered and caliber of instruction become critical. Yet we hear very little of this from those spearheading the venture. Instead we are told by the chancellor of the Cal State University system that campus approval is "critical" because Cal State Channel Islands will play a key role in providing the new army of teachers needed for California's public schools.

As a nation we spend half a trillion dollars on education each year. Is there a tangible measure for assessing the quality of the product? Consider the recent tests given to college graduates applying for teaching jobs in Massachusetts.

In April 1998, 59% of those taking the test failed it. This included college graduates from Brandeis University (47% failure rate); Boston University (34%); and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (45%). The results of tests given in July were no more encouraging.

Do those working the engines of the CSUCI project know where they are taking the rest of us, blindsided as we must be by its sheer speed?

Are we not to see, hear or talk of another vision of a campus producing sub-par students trained in soft science courses framing a liberal arts curriculum suffocating in the mantras of self-esteem? One that plumbs the bottomless depths of human sexuality, psychology and cultural diversity, buttressed by faculty and administrators protected by due process and union guardrails that make impossible the hiring of the good and the firing of the incompetent?

We have a number of private colleges and universities in our county and several off-campus programs in liberal arts education from nearby colleges and universities. Some are better than others. Nestled in a meditative corner of Santa Paula, we have Thomas Aquinas College, a private liberal arts institution of national stature. Azusa Pacific University, the University of LaVerne, USC, UC-Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge all have off-campus satellites in our county. Why is this not enough? Do we have answers?

If there is a perceived need for specialized technical and vocational training, this is another matter. The county appears to lack an institute of specialized training in computer mechanics and allied sciences. Undoubtedly, collaboration with businesses for funds, equipment, training and expertise would be appropriate here, being focused on realizing clearly defined needs.

But do we need a full-fledged Cal State campus that distributes feel-good education diplomas in an academic free-for-all?

Until we see exactly what is in place and clearly identified mechanisms are established to achieve well-defined ends, it would be prudent to stop this runaway train. We need answers acceptable to the community at large before this thing careens into an abyss, as has so often occurred at other campuses of the Cal State system.

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